Rough hands grabbed me, forcing me down into a tunnel. My upper lip was perspiring; the tunnel was dark and cold, the end invisible in the distance. Was there an end? I wanted to steady myself against the walls but the thought of insects crawling on my hand made my insides spasm. I needed to make another step but my whole body convulsed in protest. My palms were sweaty with effort of trying to keep calm. I wrung them desperately, for something to do.
Was there a movement in the distance? I gasped and took an involuntary step back. No, it couldn’t have been. They assured me the tunnel would be empty, just a dry empty shell, abandoned and forgotten. I felt like all the liquid in my body had drained away and I was slowly collapsing in on myself, folding up like a leaf on the fire
“I can’t breathe. It’s so hot. I can’t move. Let me out. Oh God! Please someone let me out of here.” I screamed out in excruciating pain
Okay OkayOkay . I’m taking breaths. Deep breaths.Deep, deep calming breaths. I’m getting dizzy. It’s like there is not enough air in here.
“Oh no! I am suffocating. I need to get out of here. I need to get out of here. I need to calm down. It’s so hard I can’t breathe!.HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!” I screamed at the top of my voice
Mum jerked out of her sleep panting and sweating heavily.
“Jesus! So it was a dream” she reaffirmed to herself as severe fright gripped her. “Tonia was in danger.. Oh God! My baby?” she muttered as she turned in the direction of her husband who slept so peacefully and deeply beside her. Just then she realised her phone was ringing for the second time. She looked at the table clock beside the bed
Her heart started racing hard against her rib cage afresh as she saw the name of the caller… Success! ‘Had something bad happened to Tonia?’ She left them at the hospital so she could just sleep at home with her husband and son tonight.Has anything gone wrong already? Her whole body trembled in fear as she picked the phone and placed it near her ear.
“Mum!” Success said with teary voice, her breath was so loud and accompanied with heavy pants. “Mum! She is in coma. The doctors are doing all they can”
“Jesus!” Abigail screamed at the top of her voice and jumped down from the bed looking for something she seems not to be finding. ‘Is the dream happening already?’She questioned no one in particular as she paced round the room. This woke her husband up and his eyes went to the table clock also. “Why is she awake?” He asked himself.
Abigail sobbed quietly, pushing her leg into slippers that seem too small for her legs right now.
“Honey, I am heading outto the hospital. It’s Tonia again” she said with a fidgeting voice. Her sweaty hands shook violently even as she tried to clamp them together. Arome got up immediately”what happened to her again?”
The alarm went off as it did every day at 6:15am. Lara rolled over her master sized bed to turn it off but decided today to listen to the radio banter on the beat 99.9fm morning show. They weren’t saying anything new, just the regular dribble that comes between the Lagos peculiar traffic updates and sport scores. After a few minutes, she sat up and rested her head in her hands with her tiny full ‘million braids’ scattering all over her face. Her flowered nightdress seems to be hugging her slim body. “Was it worth getting up today?” This is the question she has been asking herself for the past four months. Everyday, she had the same answer. NO. She forced herself to get up anyways.
A breakfast alone. A car ride alone. A life alone.
“Why did she have to die?” she asked herself again as hot tears ran down her soft smooth cheeks.
She had tried telling those she held dearest what was in her heart- Mrs Rabi, her nanny from when she was a kid and Dad but they will not understand. They patronize her and tell her inanities when they do not, cannot, understand what she feels.
A light knock on her door and she knew it would be one of the house maids. She ignored the knock until it came again, this time, louder.
“I don’t have any laundries, I don’t want breakfast, and I don’t need the car cleaned. I am not going anywhere today. Can you please get out of my door and let me be!” she yelled on top of her voice like a wounded tigress
Her door creaked opened and she was shocked by who walked in,
“Yes Baby, I flew into the country last night. You were asleep and I felt I shouldn’t disturb you.” Hon Busayo Akintola said as he took his seat on the edge of her large bed.
Lara flipped her hair from her face; her eyes were swollen, puffy and red already. Her body shivered as though all litres of fluid were draining out.
“I miss mum, Daddy” she wept as she laid her head on her father’s protruding belly.
Busayo held her shivering body and kissed her hair.
“If she were to be alive, she would make up for your absence Daddy, she would have been here for me all the times you will be in London for weeks counting into months and the other times you’ll be in Malaysia, China, and everywhere else. Why didn’t she stay alive for me?” Lara asked with so much sorrow springing up from her voice.
“I love Adedolapo too, Baby! I love your mother. She was everything wrapped up in one woman to me. Everything I needed to build a life, to build a career and build a home…” He took a deep breath and held it “And I warned her against that trip… that bloody flight that claimed the life of my darling wife.” Busayo voiced out in pains. He is a man and he need not show weakness, atleast not before his only daughter.
“Daddy I am tired of being lonely. I have all the money, I buy everything I need but am still unable to buy happiness. I still haven’t purchased the desired degree of love I want and deserve” Lara lamented further, her voice breaking alongside as though something stuck its head in her throat.
“I am sorry. But you know it’s true. Everything I do, I do it for you! All the journeys, all the risking of life in and out of this country is so you’ll have a name darling, so you’ll have an empire to call your own. So that later,when I call heaven, your mother will look on from the grave beyond and be fulfilled that I was able to train our only daughter without remarrying after her death. You know I love you Omolara, Omoba, my precious shinning jewel, my sparkling diamond… you know I do” Her father said, wiping a tear drop from his face. Lara drew closer and hugged him firmly
“I know daddy. Just that at times, I feel so lonely in here. Growing up with just Mrs Rabi and the maids has made life not so interesting for me. I miss your care and affection, Daddy. Everything feels so alone now, the walls of this room, my IT centre, everything!” she explained
He began stroking her hair lightly. “Don’t worry, Darling… Daddy is back home now”
“To travel in another three days time and return after two months” Lara retorted
He chuckled lightly and changed the topic. “So how is Jerry?”
Lara quickly turned her head upwards to face him squarely with both suspicious and questioning looks at the same time.
“Yes! Your boy friend Jerry you told me about sometimes in September last year when I picked you up from school after your exams… remember?” He asked, trying to joggle her memory back.
Lara smiled… “Daddy, I didn’t forget. I am just surprised, at loss for words and shocked that you can still remember the name. You said nothing about him since then”
Hon Busayo gave a boisterous laughter this time. He may not show it but obviously his daughter has not the faintest idea how much he cared about her
“C’mon! Really! OK! I apologise I’ve been so busy and away from you but am not heartless. Am not unromantic as well… at least your mum knew how I always used to be her knight in shining armour. Her friends back then in UniLag envied her so much. Oh God! I miss my baby!” he said pathetically
“Am sorry, Daddy! Jerry and I are no more together… since December” Lara confessed
“Who is he to treat my precious princess like that? Does he know the daughter of whom you are?” Hon. Busayo yelled out in utter rage
“No dad. It’s not what you think. I have been the one in love with Jerry right from when we both were in secondary school here. Daddy, you won’t believe I gave all those chocolates you bought for me to him at school”
“What!” Her father exclaimed. She continued
“He’ll always turn down all my offers to have him come here, though I’ve been to their house at Ikeja a lot of times.”
“Are you serious? This is incredible. And I didn’t know all these?” He interjected again
Lara nodded her head to the question in the affirmative.
“You were never around Daddy; I lie and make Yusuf – our former driver- take me there in the name of group assignment. I opted to accept my admission to Kogi State University solely because of him. He was in his year two then and I felt we could get better when we school in same place. Unfortunately for me, he kept seeing me as a kid sister until he fell in love with some Igala girl in his final year. Daddy, he loves that lady, who later broke his heart, like kilode. It was then my pressure made him consider dating me even when he couldn’t get his heart over her.” She narrated
Her father touched her cheek jeeringly. “Oh!Pele. Am sorry baby! Lesson number 1; Relationships are like butterflies. Hold it too loosely, it flies away. Hold it too tightly, it dies. Don’t ever forget, love cannot be forced. Ok? But don’t worry Baby, I’ll get him arrested…” he added jokingly
This made Lara laugh. Her mood was lightening up and for the first time in many years, she enjoyed the company, touch and affection of her father.
She now saw the worth of getting up today and every other day and not going late to her IT centre again.
Jerry knocked lightly on the door of his parent’s room. Their room is sited abit far away from the ‘boys’ room’ as they often called it. For no specific reasons he decided to speak with the both of them this early morning, since he got back to town late yesterday. He waited for a response after knocking for the second time but got none. He then leaned forward, trying to push his eyes through the little peep-hole on the door, perhaps he could confirm if the faint voices he heard came from in there or if it was just his ears.Well. Yes. And the argument was intense as he saw his mum wriggle her hand back and forth with her mouth moving in a rapid succession. The only times he saw her doing this while growing up were those times his father travelled and didn’t return on the originally planned day.
“Now he had made me cook awaiting his arrival. Couldn’t he have said it if his plans changed? Or is it another woman that is holding him back?”
She would rant over and over again in the sitting room and Jerry would only be left to wonder why his mum felt that unsecured about his father.Whatever is making them disagree this much so early, that they didn’t even hear him knock must be very serious. He took a good position for comfortable eavesdropping.
“Don’t tell me that Jake, egbo? Don’t even tell me that. Do you know what it means? She betrayed me!” Juliet yelled at the top of her voice, leaning on her dressing table.
“Juliet, you have to calm down. Abigail is your friend, the trauma she is going through regarding her daughter’s health is so much. She doesn’t need this right now. Infact, doing this to her is only inconsiderate of you. Please try and be reasonable.” Jacob Onuh said.
“Oh! I am the inconsiderate one now, yeah? I am the unreasonable one!” She retorted
“Well I didn’t mean it that way!” Jacob defended himself
“Abigail knows every damn secret about my life. She knew about Okpanachi. Yes.” she said, staring at her skin care packs and body lotion lying neatly on her dressing table as though addressing it. “She was the first to learn of the pregnancy. I told her, only her. Not even my mother knew.She was the one who insisted I confess it to you even amidst my fears and apprehension. It was her encouragement that made me brace up for the worst” She said with enormous bitterness tightening her tongue
Jerry’s head almost fell off his neck as he heard his mum’s last statement. He needed to get to the root of this talk.
“Ehen!And so? Did I crucify you for that?” Jacob started. His voice was not so calm anymore “It wasonly three months to our wedding. Did I go ahead with the wedding or not? Did I make you feel like an outcast for it? Didn’t I take full responsibility for you and your unborn child?” Jacob demanded, sounding very serious.
Juliet brought back her eyes and placed them on him. A little sweat appeared around his forehead and she knew he was about getting infuriated with her.
“You did Jake. You treated him like your own son. You went all out to make sure he lacked nothing from birth till now, even Joe’s birth didn’t change anything. You loved them both… equally!” she said, counting her words…
“It’s just that I feel so wounded, we were supposed to be totally true to one another yet Abigail didn’t tell me Tonia was born with sickle cell disease.The girl always fell ill from her tender age but I thought it was just weak immunity and that she would outgrow it in no time. I had every right to know. Even when we were hoping the children would get married, she still didn’t tell me. We were supposed to be sincere with one another, damnit!” she said, breaking into tears
Jacob stood up, went to hold her and brought her back to sit on the bed while he squatted in front of her
“Forgive her please. Moving from managing one crisis to another for over twenty three years is demoralising enough. No one is proud of sharing such tale about a child. You know all these things… you are a mother yourself…”
Juliet kept mute, at loss for words. She has been unable to get used to that fact.
Almost instantly the door flew open and Jerry who had been hitching behind it all the while stormed in.
Jacob stood up from his squatting position and Juliet immediately wiped out the tears on her eyes.
“Mum, when will you take me to my father?” He demanded in rage before anyone else could say anything to him
They turned to each other with wide-opened eyes as though they were struck by a demon.
To be continued.
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